Adtran Enterprise Chief Promises Deeper, More Focused Approach To VARs

While never the most ostentatious vendor in the networking channel, Adtran has long been highly regarded for its channel chops, particularly its post-sales support and its ability to nurture loyalty in its partner community. To hear the company's top enterprise and channel executives tell it, Adtran will go even deeper with its channel engagement in 2012, and has spent much of this year laying the groundwork to do so.

For starters, one big move Adtran made in 2011 was to split its enterprise channel sales team into two teams, one focused on Adtran's service provider partners and the other focused on VARs. Previously, Adtran had organized its account managers by territory, but according to enterprise chief Rick Schansman, the company determined that many of its sales employees were spending most of their time with larger, big-money service provider accounts instead of the smaller VARs that are Adtran's bread-and-butter partners for SMB sales.

"What we found was that if you had a medium-sized reseller and CenturyLink in your territory, you were focusing all of your attention one way," said Schansman, senior vice president and general manager for Adtran's Enterprise Networks Division. "Our people were not spending enough time in the VAR channel."

In an interview with CRN at Adtran's Huntsville, Ala. headquarters, where the company's annual Adtran Connect event for press and analysts is taking place this week, Schansman said Adtran has grown channel business substantially behind tis service provider partners, particularly CLECs and cable companies. But it also plans to double down on how it engages with the regional VARs that are fundamental to its ecosystem of 3,400-or-so partners in North America.

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"My sales guys were honest with me and they were spending their time 70 percent to 30 percent carriers to VARs," Schansman said. "It became pretty clear to us that we had to do something."

Ted Cole, vice president of channel sales for Adtran's Enterprise Networks Division, said that to have its channel sales managers engage with both major service providers like AT&T and small, single-digit employee VARs just because they're in that employee's same territory isn't the right way to manage channels.

"What we've realized is that it's a different engagement and a different experience," Cole said. "In each one of those meetings is a size differential, and what was happening is that they were spending more time with the service providers and taking away from what we wanted them to do, which is spend half their time with VARs and half their time with service providers."

Cole has been hiring new sales employees specific to Adtran's VAR partners. Another thing his team did this year was appoint partner development managers -- Adtran sales employees that focus on onboarding and growing channel partner relationships. There are currently four Adtran partner development managers, said Cole, and their compensation is tied not so specifically to hitting certain sales targets as it is to helping Adtran VARs reach milestones and grow with the company.

"The intent is that we want people who are educated and understand very specifically how to engage with these different channel partners," Cole said.

Next: Adtran's Enterprise Growth

According to Schansman, Adtran's enterprise business is above a $140 million run rate and has had a strong year in the context of overall year-on-year growth by Adtran. It's still a small piece compared to Adtran's service provider infrastructure-focused businesses -- Schanman's enterprise group accounts for "low 20 percent" of Adtran's revenue pie, he said -- but its major product areas are growing and newer product investments are starting to bear fruit.

It's been two years, for example, since Adtran entered the unified communications market with its NetVanta UC suite of products.

"It's just now becoming interesting and significant and more a bigger part of the business," he said. "If you look at the NetVanta 7100, the appliance-based PBX, that product is doing well and it gives a play with those VARs. I don't have the breadth of product today that will displace Cisco, Avaya and ShoreTel, but I can come at the VARs and say this is good for this segment of your market. That resonates."

Adtran is spending the next few months focused on building VAR business around new opportunities, including those presented by its recent acquisition of virtual wireless LAN specialist Bluesocket.

Watch for more partner program resources in the new year, said Cole, including lead generation tools. Along with those will come a push by Adtran to re-engage with some its less-performing partners, with the idea that a lot of partner relationships are worth reexamining rather than simply cutting loose.

"We're into re-energizing. We have partners we know that can do better today, and we've identified those partners in an attempt to re-ignite the fire that was there when we first brought them on board," Cole said. "What we don't want to do is simply write them off. There are diamonds in the rough that are doing good things and can do good things for us."